by Buck Institute

Buck faculty Julie Andersen, PhD, receives grant from Michael J. Fox Foundation to study brain aging as a factor in Parkinson’s disease

Buck professor Julie Andersen, PhD, has received $200,000 from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to study a process critical to brain aging in the context of Parkinson’s disease. The goal is to explore and identify a new therapeutic target for the incurable and progressive neurological disorder that affects motor function and causes a variety of non-motor symptoms including anxiety and depression, autonomic dysfunction and cognitive decline.

“Age is the greatest risk factor for Parkinson’s, and we look forward to bringing the Buck Institute’s focus on the connection between aging and chronic disease to the Foundation’s efforts to find effective treatments for the disease,” said Andersen, a neuroscientist who heads a lab that studies processes that lead to neuronal cell death in both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

The research will focus on cellular senescence, a process whereby cells stop dividing in response to stress and secrete deleterious factors that cause tissue damage and lead to chronic inflammation. The work will build on an existing research partnership between Andersen and Buck professor, Judith Campisi, PhD, a pioneer in a field that has identified cellular senescence or “inflamm-aging” as a major driver of chronic disease.

“Little is known about cellular senescence in the brain,” said Andersen. “Our preliminary data shows an increased expression of markers for senescence in tissues affected by Parkinson’s, and we are excited to look more closely at the neuropathology that connects the toxic proteins associated with Parkinson’s to senescence-associated inflammation.” In the first year of the two-year grant, scientists will study senescence in patient-derived pluripotent stem cells-derived

neurons. In the second year researchers will clear senescent cells in a mouse model of Parkinson’s to determine if the symptoms of the disease can be prevented.

Parkinson’s affects one in 100 people; the average age of disease onset is 60. While there is no objective test for the disease, recent research suggests that at least one million people in the United States and more than five million worldwide have Parkinson’s. Hallmark symptoms of the disease include a loss of spontaneous and voluntary movement along with rigidity and resting tremor. Parkinson’s can also lead to cognitive impairment and mood disorders. There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s. Existing treatments help to control symptoms, but do not address the neurological underpinnings of the disease.

Science is showing that while chronological aging is inevitable, biological aging is malleable. There's a part of it that you can fight, and we are getting closer and closer to winning that fight.

Eric Verdin, MD, Buck Institute President and CEO

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